A Shared ‘Vice’
by Merle Stickney
It’s their boyish enthusiasm that engages you first. Despite being nearly into middle age, they have a youthful zeal that’s infectious–no matter how oddly directed it turns out to be.
Bill Keltner and Wayne Schellaberger are the most unlikely of the many politicos that descend upon our fair state every four years. They’re not interested in who wins the nomination–well, thePresidential nomination at least.
Keltner and Schellaberger are self-proclaimed “Vice Presidential groupies”—hardcore wonks, VP obsessives, Veep “foamers” (an apparent reference to train aficionados whose hypnotic passion often makes them appear, slack- jawed, to be “foaming” at the mouth).
The story of their friendship is just as unlikely and serendipitous as the path that brings them through Iowa this year. “We circled one another for years”, says Keltner, a self-described “sometime entrepreneur” and temporary office worker from Vancouver, Washington, “in VP chatrooms, on eBay competing for Vice Presidential memorabilia, at Veep funerals and other Veep events–we were even at the Agnrew inaugural, though we didn’t know each other yet!” They met finally at Spiro Agnew’s gravesite, each leaving a bouquet of Black-Eyed Susans at the tombstone of Maryland’s favorite Greek-American son and the unlikeliest “Veep” of them all.
Says Schellaberger, an artist who lives and works in retail in the San Francisco Bay Area and is an apparent rising star within America’s courtroom sketch artist community, the two are united in their obsession with the Vice Presidents. They are single-minded in their passion, he says over breakfast at the Tic-Toc on 17th Street NE, and he seems taken aback when this reporter suggests it is a bit unconventional that they’ve arranged their lives around following Vice Presidents and their history like some people do rock musicians.
They both claim to be divorced in part because of their Veep obsessions, and 2008 finds them on the road to Washington, through the primaries and caucuses and conventions, hoping at the end of the rainbow for a Vice Presidential staff job—regardless of which party wins the nomination.
While their focus is both energetic and charming, they are by their own admission somewhat elitist and contemptuous of others when said persons’ knowledge of all things Vice Presidential doesn’t compare to their own.
Keltner seems particularly passionate and lectured this reporter for nearly seven minutes when I mistakenly identified FDR Vice President and Iowa native Henry A. Wallace as having hailed from Ottumwa.
I noticed during our interview that Keltner was using as a bookmark (he was reading a dog-eared biography of 1844 Whig Vice Presidential nominee Theodore Frelinghuysen) what appeared to be a police citation. When questioned, Keltner confessed that, earlier in their trip, he “lost my temper” in a tavern in Schuyler, Nebraska, and became involved in fisticuffs with a patron who Keltner said insulted him for his enthusiasm at the town’s namesake being Ulysses S. Grant’s Vice President, Schuyler Colfax. Keltner paid a $75 fine for misdemeanor battery for his role in the altercation.
Keltner concedes that the pair’s collective Vice Presidential acumen gives them a swagger and attitude bordering on the cocky. In the time I spent with them, I noticed on more than one occasion that they would attempt to use their considerable VP knowledge to attract women–and were dismissive of them when rebuffed.
It is undeniable, though, that they are evangelic in their fervor about the unappreciated power of the office, and as they follow the campaign trail toward their presumed ” destiny” of putting their enthusiasm to work in the number two office of the Executive Branch, they seem on a mission to not only educate the masses about the storied history and great responsibility of the office, but to beat them as if with a cudgel.